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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Johnston, Captain William

The founder of the Gazetter newspaper in Edinburgh in November 1792, and a supporternof reform. A few months later, he was imprisoned by the authorities, an experience later also undergone by his editorial successor. Burns's lines 'On some Commemorations of Thomson' appeared in the Gazetter. And on 13th November 1792, Burns wrote to Johnston begging leave to have his name inserted as a subscriber. Burns finished his note with an exhortion and a quotation from Pope's 'The Temple of Fame': 'Go on, Sir! Lay bare with undaunted heart and steady hand, that horrid mass of corruption called Politics and Staet-Craft! Date to draw in their native colours these "Calm thinking VILLAINS whom no faith can fix!" whatever be the Shibboleth of their pretended party.'

Two months later, however, when someone complained to the Board of Excise about Burns's loyalty, one of th charges apparently levelled was friendship or sympathy with William Johnston. Writing to Graham of Fintry on 5th January 1793, Burns protested: ' Of Johnston, the publisher of the Edinr Gazeteer, I know nothing. One evening in company with four or five friends, we met with his prospectus which we thought manly and independent; and I wrote to him, ordering his paper for us. If you thik that I act improperly in allowing his Paper to come addressed to me, I shall immediately countermand it. I never, so judge me God! Wrote a line of prose for the Gazeteer in my life. An occasional address, spoken by Miss Fontenelle on her benefit night here, which I called, the Rights of Woman, I sent to the Gazeteer; as also some extempore stanzas on the Commemorations of Thomson; both of these I will subjoin for your perusal. You will see that they have nothing whatever to do with Politics.

'At the time when I sent Johnston one of these poems, but which one, I do not remember, I inclosed, at the request of my warm and worthy friend, Robert Riddel Esq: of Glenriddel, a prose Essay signed Cato, written by him, and addressed to the delegates for the County. With the merits or demerits of that Essay, I have nothing to do, farther than transmitting it in the same Frank, which Frank he had procured me.'

Riddell's letter set forth, in reasonable terms, the case for extending the Franchise

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Robert Burns Store

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Complete Burns Songs

linn recordings of burns Linn Records have completed their landmark recording of all 368 Burns songs, available as individual CDs or a 12 volume presentation box set. We have full details. Click here...


Burns Music & Recordings
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Burns Chess Sets

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